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Monday, October 26, 2020
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Chiller nightmare

The KHMH Commission of Inquiry’s public hearings are now complete. Prime Minister Dean Barrow awaits the handing over of what will be a unanimous report from Commissioners Justice Adolph Lucas, Orvin Nicholas and Julia Castillo concerning their findings.
  
And six torrid months to the day of the first revolt of the doctors under the Belize Medical and Dental Union (BMDU), the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital can once again put the focus on restoring the health and saving the lives of ordinary Belizeans in their care.
  
But before all of that, there was one last wild day of testimony to go through at the Belize Institute of Management on Chancellor Street on Friday morning.
  
A total of five witnesses were called: four of them had previously testified before the Commission, and a fifth appeared today on short notice.
  
That witness, Director of Technical and Support Services Angela Wade, outlined in a sometimes winding testimony the strange journey of the hospital’s chiller unit, purchased in 2004 from York/Johnson International.
  
The unit ran into technical problems from the time of its installation, and technicians from the company that checked it advised the purchase of certain parts. The parts would have cost the hospital BZ$28,686.28. A requisition and purchase order was prepared by then-supplies unit manager Carlton Usher and then-Director of Finance Cecil Knowles on May 12, 2008, and the next day payment was made through a cheque signed by accountant Shevan Fairweather and Knowles. The purchase was made to Miami, Florida-based Flamingo Enterprises, run by president Eugene Kuylen.
  
(A source with knowledge of Flamingo tells us that the company has Belizeans as managers and acts primarily as a brokerage firm sourcing needed supplies, and has done business with Government departments in Belize for some time.)
  
Shortly thereafter, Wade went on study leave out of the country and returned in October 2008. After being given an update on her division of the hospital by the holdover staff, she asked about the chiller unit and was told by physical plant manager, Adrian Cardinez, that they were still awaiting the parts ordered in May.
  
According to Wade, she then informed members of management, including Director of Human Resources Laurel Grant (who had just stepped down as acting CEO), Dr. Khalid Ghazy, then-Director of Medical Services; Director of Nursing Mavis Palacio, Knowles’ successor Carlos Perrera, and Edith Lizama, Quality Assurance Coordinator.
  
Although the context suggests that the meeting took place at the very least after Wade’s return in October, the exact date is unknown. Testifying earlier, Grant said she could not recall discussing the arrival of parts with anyone, being more anxious to wrap up the handover from Knowles to Perrera and the introduction of Dr. Francis Longsworth to the CEO position. (Dr. Longsworth had mentioned the chiller unit in his testimony on Wednesday, noting that the hospital had lost US$16,000 in the transactions concerned.)
  
Later, Perrera told the Commissioners that he would have to confirm the exact date of the management meeting referred to by Wade.
  
Based on Wade’s report, Perrera was authorized to look into the matter. He told the Commission today that a call to Kuylen confirmed that the items had been shipped and paid for, though he swore no member of senior staff knew of the $28,626.28 payment in May.
  
Apparently, one Ramos, the hospital’s customs broker at the time, had failed to inform them of the items’ arrival; neither, apparently, did he endeavour to clear the items through Customs.
  
In May of this year, the items were apparently auctioned at the Port of Belize Limited and won with an unknown bid by one Hamzi. As previously reported, Hamzi then attempted to bargain with the KHMH to buy the items back from him. It is not known how much Hamzi paid at PBL, but he quoted a sale price of $13,000 to Wade in a letter to her, which she received upon her return to her post in October of this year (she had gone away again on study leave).
  
After viewing the parts, some of which KHMH already had, and getting Hamzi’s documents of the auction process to prove they had not been stolen or illegally gotten, Wade advised CEO Dr. Longsworth not to buy and the hospital was forced to put in another order to Flamingo, now requested by Wade and signed by purchasing officer Virginia Carrillo, Perrera and Dr. Longsworth. Those parts are to be sent within the next two weeks, during which the time the unit remains at less than 100% capacity.
  
Confused? It gets deeper. Apparently, Wade and officers at the Finance Unit of the KHMH uncovered only yesterday evidence of what appeared to be a double payment for a separate set of parts for the same chiller unit, ordered in April of 2008, paid for then, then paid for again in June.
  
The first invoice, #1731, and requisition, dated April 16, 2008, and signed by Carlton Usher and Cecil Knowles, approved by Shevan Fairweather (but not the CEO), was for $4,133.37 in parts from Flamingo.
  
Only Usher’s signature (twice) and Knowles’ appears on the forms, as part of a greater bill for $60,771.79 sent to Flamingo for several items.
  
Apparently, on June 30, Knowles brought his replacement, Perrera, an invoice #1731 and payment for $3,892.62 for the same parts, less cost of freight.
  
Wade told the panel that only Carlton Usher would know whether the hospital received one shipment or two. Perrera testified later that Usher, as then-supplies manager, was responsible for tracking purchase orders, including this one. The purchasing department, under the purview of Finance, now handles that task in conjunction with the hospital’s customs broker – Carlos Perrera’s uncle, Ernesto Perrera, of EP Brokers.
  
According to Perrera, Ramos had left the chiller unit parts and other items for the hospital at the Port and Customs without clearing them in time. The hospital has since changed its system for such requisitions, demanding proof of necessity from the division manager. Suppliers are also responsible for emailing the hospital to see to it that their items come safely; the hospital then communicates with its broker.
Given a chance to rebut, Knowles accused his successors of leaving out important pieces of the story, including the item requisition form that would be the basis for his authorization. “The cheque requisition form is only the final leg of the process,” he said.
  
The other major point of contention was the Venezuelan grant money. While all agree $1 million was given to the hospital in 2007, what it was used for is another matter.
  
Former CEO, Dr. Alvaro Rosado, who had emphatically denied in a previous appearance that the Venezuelan grant was used to buy some medical supplies, stuck to his story today, maintaining that there were records specifically kept on the grant and that a memo provided by Perrera and written by Knowles to a Ministry of Finance official in 2007 responding to a request to account for monies sent did not make any mention of the grant, that the money, while consolidated, was used in separate purchases.
  
He continued to maintain that accountant Shevan Fairweather was wrong in her assumption that the monies sent in two parts were for the grant, and said the current administration was “selectively” providing documents on the matter.
  
Dr. Rosado backtracked slightly on the matter of PharmaCol Limited, which he had emphatically denied knowing of or doing business with in his tenure. Shown a copy of a cheque he had apparently signed in October 2007 for $10,298 of supplies bought from the company in which radiographer Freddy Mansu and attorney Arthur Saldivar are shareholders, Rosado now says he was guided in that matter by Dr. Khalid Ghazy as Director of Medical Services and admitted signing for other companies mentioned throughout the Commission – Union Distribution, ND Pharmaceuticals and others – that he did not know of personally.
  
“I must have known, at that time, whose signatures these are,” Dr. Rosado said of the PharmaCol cheque.” “I recognize Dr. Ghazy’s signature… but while I must have known who signed this two years ago – someone from the Finance department – I couldn’t tell you now who that is. I wish I could make out the signature.”
  
Responding to the queries that PharmaCol was not registered in October of 2007 when the cheque was issued, Cecil Knowles deflected blame to the bank, stating that while he was not aware of whether the company was legitimately registered, he would not have signed the cheque – and the bank would not have handled it – if there was no account for PharmaCol.
  
Knowles’ testimony wrapped up around 11:30 a.m., and Justice Lucas, speaking for his fellow Commissioners, quipped that this Commission was short of “fireworks.”
  
Two potential witnesses, Dr. Ghazy and former KHMH chief pharmacist Eugene Echegi, are both out of the country. Echegi wrote the Commissioners expressing his “sincere regret” that he could not appear before them, claiming that he did not know when he could come back to Belize, and wishing them luck.
  
This story is, of course, not done. The nation awaits the releasing of the report to the Prime Minister, hoping that he will make the entire report public.
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